Everybody else is obsessing about the debates. Until 9 PM when reality has to be faced, I'm gonna curl up, suck my thumb and console myself by obsessing about my current favorite TV show: "Rescue Me."
You have to understand that "The Sopranos" ruined television for me. I used to watch stuff like "NYPD Blue" and "ER," but "The Sopranos" just leaves even the "best" of regular TV in the dust. The writing is so swift and dense and witty, the dilemmas so mortal and universal, the hilarity so mordant, the characters so morally piebald -- compared to something like "CSI-NY," "The Sopranos" looks like life itself. (One telling reaction I have to it: I have to see every episode -- and then I never want to see it again. It's past "entertainment." It's too real. I don't want to replay Tony and Carm's separation any more than I'd want to replay my own.) I've tried to watch ordinary series since "The Sopranos" spoiled me, but I can't. I can usually see every plot point coming ten miles away, and even when I can't, the surprises are gratuitously bizarre. I get bored. I don't care.
So when they started advertising "Rescue Me" as "the best thing on TV since 'The Sopranos,'" I was like, yeah, right. I tried watching it, though -- there was nothing else to watch but cable news -- and at first, I didn't like it much. The pacing was so spacy and laconic, and Denis Leary was so inert. He doesn't really act, he's just there, even in sex scenes. I didn't get any real sense that his character, fireman Tommy Gavin, was seething with suppressed emotion. He just seemed inexpressive and affectless.
But boy, has the show grown on me. The first thing that got to me was, it's funny. (Well, I'd hope so, Leary's a comedian.) Actually, funny/sad/funny. (This is what they call a "dramedy" -- a dreadful word that sounds like it means a shot of Scotch taken to prevent seasickness while riding a camel.) It's the first show that really captures the taste and tang of life in NYC after 9/11 -- that memory of smoke on the tongue. But no matter how potentially poignant the situation, the balance always tips toward laughter. When a character attempts suicide by carbon monoxide on this show, he fails -- because there's only an eighth of a tank in the car. Next episode, he's got a new scheme for betting on the horses. Tommy's screwing the widow of his cousin and best friend who died in the towers, and because he feels guilty about it, he gets into a fistfight with his priest, which you just know is Part II of a schoolyard brawl from 30 years ago. There are enough deadpan, throwaway lines in "Rescue Me" to give "The Sopranos" a run for its money. For instance, describing a mid-op transsexual who's climbed a tree in Central Park as a protest, one of the firefighters says, "He's got two tits and he's saving up to buy a vagina." Tommy says under his breath, "Isn't everybody?" If you weren't listening carefully, you could miss it. I love writing that demands and rewards that kind of attention.
"Rescue Me" is wonderfully politically incorrect (Tommy tells an obnoxious woman firefighter she has two uses as far as he's concerned -- "you can give me a blowjob or you can make me a sandwich"), bracingly obscene -- sex, of every persuasion, seems to be these guys' biggest diversion, drug, joke and solace -- and aromatically male. I don't know if this is must-see TV in firehouses, but what I maybe like best of all about the show is the way it feels like New York firefighters are the audience Denis Leary really wants to please. (According to a review reprinted at firehouse.com, "Leary himself lost a firefighter cousin in an earlier incident and has set up a foundation that aids firefighters and their families.")
And as if all that weren't enough, the man is as sexy as an alleycat.